Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/65

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49
THE MAKING OF EUROPE

failed to complete the conversion of the Saxons he substituted persuasion and intensified missionary activity. When legislative threats failed to purify the clergy he began a great campaign to improve their education and succeeded in raising both their intellectual and their moral standards. He also encouraged the development of the parish system, which had begun much earlier among the Franks, and made it a really effective agency for spreading and maintaining Christianity among the great masses of the rural population. The parish, centered around a village church, was a logical answer to the weakness of the older system which required a predominantly rural population to attend city churches. But bishops had had little authority over parish priests, and the priests, in turn, had not always been able to secure the obedience of their parishioners. Charlemagne definitely subordinated the parish priests to the bishops, just as the bishops were subordinated to the newly established archbishops. At the same time, he gave the parish clergy far greater authority over laymen by establishing a system of compulsory tithes and by encouraging the practice of hearing confessions.

In the light of this policy, carried on without faltering for forty-six years, Charlemagne's assumption of the title of emperor was a logical and necessary step. There has been endless and unprofitable discussion about the ceremony held on Christmas Day in 800, but certain conclusions seem well established. In the first place, Charlemagne received the title from the pope because he wanted it. He was absolute master of the Church; the pope depended on him for protection against dangerous enemies, and it is inconceivable that an act of such importance could have been planned without the king's consent. In the second place, the imperial title added nothing to Charlemagne's political authority. He was already ruler of most of Western Europe and he gained no new lands or rights by becoming emperor. Finally, the real advantage of the coronation was increased spiritual authority; it emphasized Charlemagne's position as head of Western Christendom.